A Boy Named Sue

A Boy Named Sue

Infobox Single
Name = A Boy Named Sue

Cover size =
Caption =
Artist = Johnny Cash
Album =
A-side =
B-side =
Released = 1969
Format = 7"
Recorded = February 24, 1969
Genre = Country
Length = 3:44
Label = Columbia Records
Writer = Shel Silverstein
Producer =
Certification = Audiosample
Upper caption = Audio sample
Audio file= Johnny Cash - A Boy Named Sue -Live-.ogg

Last single =
This single =
Next single =
Misc =

"A Boy Named Sue" is a country song, written by Shel Silverstein and popularly sung by Johnny Cash. Johnny Cash was at the height of his popularity when he recorded this song live at San Quentin State Prison in California. The concert was recorded for broadcast by Granada Television on February 24, 1969 and for the "Johnny Cash At San Quentin" album. The song became Cash's biggest hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, spending three weeks at #2 in 1969; it also topped the country music and adult contemporary charts that same year. ["The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits", 6th Edition, 1996]

Plot and reaction

It tells the preposterous yet moving tale of a young man's quest for revenge on an absent father whose only contribution to his entire life was naming him Sue, traditionally a girl's name. The name was the cause of endless ridicule as the young man was growing up. As the years went on, Sue grew big, strong and fearsome from all the fights he got into with bullies.

At the climax of the song, Sue finds and confronts his father, and the two get into a vicious brawl. After the two have beaten each other almost senseless, Sue's father admits that the name was given to him as an act of love: because he knew he would not be there for his son, Sue's father gave him that name to make sure that he grew up strong. Learning this, Sue forgives his father and they have an emotional reconciliation.

With his lesson learned, Sue closes the song with an announcement: "And if I ever have a son, I think I'm gonna name him . . . Bill or George, any damn thing but Sue! I still hate that name!"

Years later Silverstein wrote a follow-up named "The Father of a Boy Named Sue" in which he tells the old man's point of view of the story. [ [http://www.sonicuke.com/c_father.php Sonic Uke: Chords - Father of a Boy Named Sue, Shel Silverstein ] ]

Late 1960s public decorum being what it was, the line "I'm the son-of-a-bitch that named you Sue!" was censored in the radio version, and the final line was edited to take out the "damn". Both the edited and unedited versions are available on various CDs.

The song has an unusual A-A-C B-B-C rhyme scheme, broken only to mark the dramatic midpoint and comic ending, and is full of vivid images such as "he kicked like a mule and bit like a crocodile". The song is mostly recitation rather than conventional singing.


The core story of the song was inspired by humorist Jean Shepherd, a close friend of Shel Silverstein who was often taunted as a child because of his feminine-sounding name. [Bergmann, Eugene B.: Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd, 2005]

The title might have been inspired by the male attorney Sue K. Hicks of Madisonville, Tennessee, a friend of John Scopes who agreed to be a prosecutor in the Scopes Trial. [http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=8051675] Sue was named after his mother who died after giving birth to him.Fact|date=July 2007 However, while this may have inspired Silverstein to write the poem, there may have been another reason why Johnny Cash recorded it. Johnny Cash was a fan of popular western novelist, Zane Grey, whose first name at birth was "Pearl".

In his autobiography [Cash, Johnny: Cash: The Autobiography 1997] Cash wrote that the he had just received the song and only read it over a couple of times. It was included in that concert to try it out; he didn't know the words. (He can be seen on the video regularly referring to a piece of paper.) He was surprised at how well the song went over with the audience – which is why this rough, spontaneous performance with sparse accompaniment was included in the "Johnny Cash At San Quentin" album, ultimately becoming one of Cash's biggest hits.

Cover versions

French singer Joe Dassin made a french version of this song called "Un garçon nommé Suzy" in the album "L'Amerique" in 1970

German comedian and singer/songwriter Mike Krüger recorded the song as early as 1975 in a German language version called, "Ein Junge namens Susi (A boy named Susi)."

In 1999 American singer/musician Joshua James covered the song on the album Tanked Up and Derailed. It was done in a style known as Psychobilly. Though it had moderate sales, it failed to make the charts in the United States.

In 2004 the Dutch (Zeeuws-Brabantse) band Bennie Hek en De Houdoe's covered the song. They sang it in their own dialect (Zeeuws) and named it, "Un hast die a Truus heet (A boy named Truus)."

Belgian cabaret singer Wouter Deprez made a West-Flamisch version of the song in 2005. That song has the name, "An jonge genoamd An (A boy named An)".

Belgian cabaret duet Kommil Foo released a Dutch cover version called, "Man genaamd Marianne (A Man Named Marianne)," in 2006.

Jan Rot has translated and covered the song in Dutch as "Mijn naam is Mien" (My name is Mien) for the album An en Jan gaan landelijk.

References in popular culture

*The Salem, Oregon band Boy Named Sue [http://www.myspace.com/suetheboy] gets their name form the Johnny Cash version of the song.
*The 1992 song Crackerman by Stone Temple Pilots features the lines: "Trippin' as I'm thinkin' 'Bout a boy, his name was Sue".
*In the 1996 movie "Swingers", featuring Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn, the character Sue played by Patrick Van Horn is said to have been named by a father who was an obsessive Cash fan.
*A 2001 documentary, "A Boy Named Sue" whose protagonist is transgender, takes the song's name, and incorporates it in the soundtrack.
*The song is mentioned in Stephen King's The Dark Tower Series
*It is also mentioned in the Jimmy Neutron Episode The Great Egg Heist.
*"A Boy Named Sue: Gender and Country Music" is the title of a 2004 book about the role of the gender in American Country / Western music [Kristine M. McCusker, Diane Pecknold (2004) "A Boy Named Sue: Gender and Country Music", " [University Press] of Mississippi] ", ISBN 1578066786]
*Mandark from Dexter's Laboratory was born with the name Susan. An episode of the series is titled "A Boy Named Susan"


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